Collaboration Post 3 – 15 Collaborative Behaviours To Change Your Group’s Outcomes

Collaborate or Die

We are meant to play nicely, work as a team and respect each other. In Part 1, we expanded on 10 reasons why this often fails to happen.

In this Part 3, we now look at the key desirable behaviours that, when practiced mindfully and regularly, WILL produce a team breakthrough, get the group to the goal and leave everyone alive, and, at least on speaking terms at the end.

As you move through the behaviours, ask yourself, “Do I do this? “Can I start doing this?” And, “Will I step up and do this regularly?”

15 Strong Suggestions

  1. Interrupt your dark defensive moments and fill them with light.

Experienced in so many ways as sarcasm, denial, anger, avoidance and justification, defensiveness – This is the burden suffered by most teams attempting to become more collaborative and effective.

Action

Borrowed from anger management training courses, the best method is to spot the symptoms of early on-set defensiveness and divert the behaviour, diminish it or reverse it. If you are beginning to feel your blood boil, take a walk to the balcony, go smell the flowers and take your imagination to a place of cool, calm tranquillity to “reset” your body’s distracting chemicals.

Young attractive business people - the elite business team

  1. Coaching your colleagues through any resistance.

The majority of people will not instantly get behind a fresh idea or new change. They will choose to wait it out, criticise it, or, mount an attack.

Action

Here, a coaching approach can be effective as you focus inside your colleague’s head to access both their imagination and logic circuits to help them do the work of processing change and getting on board for themselves. Questions that help to create different and contrasting futures are good – “What if we carry on as we are? What are the risks of this?” “If we had 10 times the resources available, what should we do next?” “If you were the team leader now, what course of action would you recommend?” Etc.

  1. Actively listening to your concerned colleague.

The problem with teams is that the confident, privileged and beautiful get most of the airtime. And this dynamic is actually reinforced by everybody in the team – even the oppressed, the shy, or, the outsiders. The reflectors, quiet geniuses and shy analysts are not prone to speak up, do not feel they have permission to speak and, thus, do not take up their share of the microphone.

Action

Related to coaching but intruding less, listening is about getting the whole story out of the coachee / colleague. We can employ minimal encouragement – “That is important, please tell us more” “You were saying…” “And, what does this mean for our team?” Quieter members of the team may be more sensitive. If you overdo it they will clam up – Maintain a positive, still attention with minimal non-verbal, para-verbal and verbal prompts. This will be good for evening out the group’s share of voice, listening to all and including their ideas and concerns as well as counting the vote of everybody to form an inclusive group dynamic that will be effective in taking a diverse group all the way to a stretched goal.

  1. Building muscular resilience.

We can see resilience as the ability to bounce back from pressure, stress or becoming knocked off balance, AND, still being about to function effectively. In the politics of the team, possessing greater resilience can take people all the way to the top. And a lack of resilience will see someone being relegated to the oppressed group, or demoted to basic executive duties. They are sent to eat at the children’s table.

Action

Resilience comes in 4 flavours – Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Teams or individuals can be encouraged to participate in simple and repeated exercises to stretch and build their resilience muscles. Physical – Regular exercise, monitoring diet and alcohol consumption. Emotional – Developing the habit of experiencing positive emotions through appreciation, gratitude and laughter. Mental – Simple maths exercises. Spiritual – Practicing your faith or thinking pure thoughts.

  1. Learning to resolve difference intelligently.

It is easy to sulk, withdraw and dismiss a different opinion from your own. This actually represents a form of defensiveness and will not allow a team to become optimally collaborative.

Action

Imagine learning to reconcile difference to a level where, “I am OK & You’re OK”, becomes the default setting for the group. (We discuss a positive exception to this later).

What difference would this make to the atmosphere and energy in your team? The simplest method when two parties are on opposite sides of an argument or behaviour style (e.g. direct communicators v indirect communicators), is to reconcile the difference. We ask first, what is the benefit and contribution of each style, acknowledging that a diversity of approaches is actually NECESSARY for success. We then work on how we can accommodate those two benefits in team communications or by putting them into the project plan. E.g. direct people tell the unvarnished truth, which can be invaluable when a crisis is looming. Diplomatic indirect people keep the channels of communication open, maintain higher levels of trust and ensure the probability of long-term communication. It is easy to see that both styles are required. The task then is to design simple protocols that allow both styles to operate with respect and appreciation within the team.

Colorful 3D rendering. Abstract shape composition, geometric structure block. Wallpaper for graphic design.

  1. Two heads are better than one when solving a problem.

If you are a hammer, your default mode is to bash things on the head. Not great when changing the batteries in your watch. Again a diversity of approaches will be more effective.

Action

Practicing problem solving can be a bonding process that deepens the respect and positive emotions of all team members. Weekly intellectual challenges involving abstract problems can be a fun team building activity that is secretly growing the team’s capacity to handle complex issue, resolve involved messes, and, operate smoothly and efficiently when a live business problem comes along.

  1. Trust underpins it all.

Without trust we have defensiveness, solo silos, and Machiavellian plots.

Action

There are 3 components to trust – Ability, Benevolence and Integrity. Each must be in play to ensure positive vulnerability and promote trust in a high functioning collaborative team. Ability – Giving recognition to the skills, competence and experience of each team member is a way that quickly establishing better communication and inclusion in any team. X becomes the go-to person on subject Y. Benevolence – By this we mean that each member declares and proves that they are not wishing a negative outcome upon their colleagues. They wish to allow a beneficial or, at least, neutral state to exist. Integrity – My word is my bond. It is essential to continually keep your promises in order to maintain confidence in the overall performance of any team. If there is a weak link, the whole side will feel let down.

  1. The Licensed Pessimist.

The risk to any team is Groupthink, where a strong personality is accepted as leader and their ego expands to a level where they propose actions that represent foolhardy risk taking. The compliant and passive nodders around them, allow and encourage adoption of this fast-track route to disaster.

Action

Challenging the precepts of 7. we deliberately create a rotating and official role that allows and encourages a critical view and gives full permission for that person to voice their concerns – The Licenced Pessimist. “What if the market does not recover? What then?” “Those numbers appear way too optimistic. How did you derive them?”

When immunity from revenge and animosity is established in the group’s ground rules, the role becomes effective and essential in stress testing all new input to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.

Team building. Group pf colleagues sitting in a circle and playing games and having fun.

  1. Holding everybody accountable.

Like a sulky child, the wayward executive defends their actions by saying – “Well I didn’t agree with the decision to go this route in the first place.” (Though they remained silent or did not actively disagree, when given the chance before the decision was made.) It is this lack of ownership that will lead to a suboptimal quality of work and poor outcomes.

Action

Asking everybody to say the word, “agree” can be enough to reduce the number of passive passengers on the bus and encourage everybody to process the information to form an active and personally held view. More people are then included in the process of building strategy, planning and problem solving.

  1. Regular Brainstorming.

Habits are quick to form and hard to change. It is easier to repeat what you did yesterday than take a different approach today in order to get a stronger result tomorrow. We are conservative, risk avoidant and take comfort in repetition. The zone we live in is far from comfortable – We stay in horrible jobs, relationships or houses not out of comfort, but out of habit.

Action

This activity will also count towards your resilience exercises. Brainstorming is about expanding the creative connections that you allow your imagination to make by expressing yourself freely. Exempt from criticism and editing, brainstorming moves in waves. There will be a burst of output, a lull, a second burst, and then a second lull. Keep going. It is often in the third burst that the gold is to be found.

  1. Turning passive to active.

What is written on the tombstone of most failed companies, “Well, we tried”. Not hard enough. Underperformance is supported in meetings and work by grey language, low energy sentences and half-hearted commitment. “I’ll try” is at the heart of all of them.

Action

Challenge sluggish, monotone responses to requests. Do not take “Maybe” for an answer. When you are asked, “How you are in the morning?”, upgrade your answer from a monotone, “ffiinne, I suppose” to, “SUPERB AND FANTASTIC. THANKS FOR ASKING.“

  1. Get rid of blame.

The best companies react intelligently to crisis, drama and adverse external circumstance. They do not start to defend, point the finger or avoid responsibility.

Action

The next time you have a company fire to put out and you follow the charter (point 15.) you will experience a difference in atmosphere and will have the chance to see the benefit of full-on collaboration in action. When people are scientific in their description of events this can be captured on a timeline. When they are objective in outlining the symptoms and measured in their analysis of likely causes, then you will experience the pay-off in investing to build collaborative mechanisms in your team.

  1. Moderation and facilitating collaboration.

The accidental hero boss can unintentionally ignore valuable input in order to maintain their hero brand. The neurotic and scared boss may shut down intelligent challenge, not because of the quality of the input, but due to their own insecurities. And, the time-scarce leader can move the meeting along, unconsciously, only asking group thinkers and fans for input, driven by a misguided and dangerous perceived need for peace and pace rather than quality and challenge.

Action

The job of a great moderator is to even out the debate and include a wider base of people, delivering a more diverse and representative contribution – Sampling a diversity of opinion and actively encouraging the quieter sources of wisdom to share their contribution, speak up and be heard.

  1. Good Conflict.

Many companies employ “nice” people who are expected to be “nice”. What actually happens is they become avoidant and this allows stupider ideas to become policy in action, leading to disaster.

Action

Promote the licensed critic, the robust challenger and include different opinions (and integrate these exotic gems via the process of reconciliation.) The smart move is to establish a protocol for allowed any civilised challenge within a robust but protected environment, to produce better suggestions, better processes, more considered solutions and a better customer experience. All this is done to generate improved products, services and engagement, the end result of which, will be experienced in higher income and healthier levels of profit.

  1. Capture collaboration in a charter    How many great training initiatives generated on a Friday are quietly killed off at the 8.30AM reporting meeting on a Monday? A. Most of them. It is easier to let innovation, change and challenge die on the vine and to go back to those old habits that are, actually not serving you well, but feel like an old pair of shoes – At least familiar. The problem is, they represent a slow company suicide.

Action

The formulation of a charter for collaborative team behaviours, formed collaboratively. Is that too obvious? It does not start with a stone tablet issuing from the CEO’s office. It does not come from an expensive off-site weekend jolly for Directors only. It comes from the floor. It evolves. It represents the voice and heart of everybody. And, it is signed up to by everybody – Volunteers stepping up, not coerced group thinkers just nodding along.

About the Author – Matthew Hill is a facilitator, trainer, writer, and public speaker, working with UK and International teams to get them beyond their blockages to create durable results in an exciting peer-to-peer atmosphere of exchange, fairness and excellence.

Contact Matthew on 075 40 65 9995 for a short conversation.

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Cultural Risk Management Part III by Glen Burridge

Just how serious is it?

I’ve previously said there is a risk in our world that, by virtue of its very pervasiveness, we are more blind-sided to than any other. It threatens us with the most terrifying consequences if we do not respect it and, yet, if we harness its power, it can be an accelerator towards our greatest riches: It is that of Cultural Risk.

Assumption No. 2:

“Even if it exists, there is nothing to be done about it….”

This the biggest stumbling block we face and many people never get beyond this point.

This failure to see a solution is best explained by what can be ascribed to a malaise in both the Cultural and Risk fields.

Perhaps the question would be better re-framed:

“Why is the knowledge that exists to tackle it not being deployed more effectively?”

There are after all not one, but two fields of expertise meant to be dealing with this.

Let’s start with a simple representation of broadly pretty much any activity human beings engage in:

At the heart of this view lie two inescapable elements:

  1. What drives how groups of people behave: “Culture” (the shape of their collective motivations)
  2. What people do for the results they want: How they judge the benefits against the “Risk” (ending up in a desirable place in the range of possible futures)

    Glen Burridge Cultural Risk Model

    Cultural Risk Model

Why the intercultural signal has been lost

The field of intercultural studies should be a coherent whole, but isn’t. This is a deep irony as much as it is a tragedy.

Originally born of the need for anthropologists to make sense of “exotic” cultures that were cut from cloth very different from their own, the study of the ethnic or national dimension of inter-cultural relations carries with it a genuine, and life-affirming curiosity to explain, reconcile and improve relations between communities, whether they be tribes, regions, nations or even global blocs. Its remit can be said to range from the village green to the UN.

Equally, there have been various attempts at understanding the way assemblages of people work together as organisations since the 19th Century. Driven by a far more prosaic imperative of effectiveness, it reaches to understand the same dynamic of how people can work better together, whether it is in the name of financial profitability, optimising supply chains, guarding reputations or simply completing a mission.

Despite tackling many of the same material questions about human collective behaviour, these two perspectives remain unreconciled; the latter may not even be aware – let alone, seek co-operation with the first – with protagonists finding themselves having to delve into psychology, business studies, sociology, applied linguistics and communications for answers.

The only potential touch-point you’re likely to find is within international management studies, where the interface of culture is all but inevitable, but this is a niche. Pick up a publication from the two sides of the cultural coin and expect little overlap in thinkers.

In recent times, a third dimension has taken on a consequence all of its own, due to the ability for the global community to talk to and between itself. These are the self-identifying and potentially ephemeral cultures (manifesting, as they do, often in digital form) of networks. If there is one global social activity that perhaps defines our current time, it could arguably be this one phenomenon.

This fracture is at the heart of why we do not see our most pressing questions of the day framed in intercultural terms. There is no shortage of expertise or technique. It’s that the brand is simply too weak.

If you want a perspective on what the intercultural can offer and Glen’s own take on what holds it back, see his 2014 presentation slide deck from the Dialogin international management conference in Konstance here:

http://glenburridge.com/what-constrains-the-impact-of-cross-cultural-thinking-on-global-leadership-a-consultants-view-2/

Management’s nasty secret: It too easily forgets all risk is human…

The fundamental issue that has still yet to fully dawn on many organisations is that their greatest risk has always been and always will be human. No technology or opaque algorithm is going to change that anytime soon.

“All aircraft accidents are human factors accidents”

Captain Dan Marino, International Civil Aviation Organisation – pioneer of human factors in aviation safety

We are reluctant to contemplate the role of our own Human Factor in the vulnerabilities of a given situation. The complexity of our world and the challenges we create for ourselves mean this reticence to consider the risk we create from our own collective psychology is no longer tenable. The wonders of neuroscience, probability theory and data visualisation have also marched too far for any more excuses.

Now, some subjects are so huge and the issues so pressing, they require a whole new literature and approach. For the most eloquent raising of the warning flag on the way the spectre of uncertainty is handled by organisations, look no further than Douglas Hubbard’s brilliant The Failure of Risk Management. Otherwise, follow Alexei Sidorenko on LinkedIn, who posts almost daily on this theme.

In short, what’s gone wrong with the classic manifestation of “risk management” as we understand it today is that it is shot through with our own fallibility – to the point of its own self-destruction. We need to couple our stunning abilities to numerically model a sweep of possible outcomes and their probabilities with the Human Factor. Only then can we hope to provide the best chance for quality decisions and a far more realistic and resilient vision on the true uncertainty we are facing – from which threats will surge or benefits develop.

As we’ve moved into the 21st Century, a whole new field has become dedicated to this very task, born out of the lessons of behavioural economics and social psychology, namely Decision Science, a topic I will no doubt return to, since it is our greatest hope for a vehicle to resolve this.

Cultural risk management as a trade

The other good news is that the two most fundamental applications of cultural risk management happen to have been foundations of our global society for thousands of years. So much so, we can be forgiven to taking them for granted: They are the relationships we form with each other through diplomacy and through trade.

The art of finding a mutually agreeable solution between multiple sources of power must rank among the oldest three professions (even if others commonly are accorded the epithet!) and the fate of everything from individuals to, at times, the entire human civilisation has hung on its success.

Without functioning diplomatic relations, you do not have much of a basis for society-level stability, the ability to assure safety nor to progress through exchanging ideas and material objects with other groups. There’s a very close and immediately acting correlation between lack of diplomatic effectiveness and anarchy.

The first place to look for mastery of this art is, therefore, among the great diplomatic successes of history, sometimes which are acts by single individuals. And, then, to look, by extension, at those who seem to have an uncanny ability to reach out to many groups, either with ideas or products.

Stripped back to its elemental, cultural evolution comes down to the (sense of…) distance between parties and whether they have anything which the other feels is of value, whether that be material, knowledge or even an idea. This was true in the hundreds of thousands of years when we were not much more than a clever pack of apes eking out an existence, as it is now when a quantum scientist, salesperson or political commentator speaks to a collaborator, customer or journalist on the other side of the planet. We might wrap it all in cultural artefacts like research funding, capital and network analysis, but the essential dynamic is just the same as it was on that river crossing, tundra or forest clearing back in our earliest days.

About the Author – Glen Burridge is a management consultant who’s come to the conclusion that intercultural risk is the greatest threat and opportunity lurking in all we do. To handle it, we need to think of culture as multi-faceted, ever-present and a context for every decision we ever make.

Contact Glen at glen@glenburridge.com 

#culturalrisk #riskmanagement #humanfactors #intercultural #crosscultural #management #risk

The Problem We Create By Being There – Consultants & Clients by Glen Burridge

The first problem is YOU – A cultural thought piece by our “foreign correspondent”, Glen Burridge

Junger Geschftsmann bei einer Prsentation Why are you here?

There is a barrier that lies at the heart of any consultant trying to transform an organisation, namely that you present an intercultural challenge by your very presence. Yes, you, as a consultant are the first problem the customer has to deal with when they bring in someone to help spur improvements in their organisation.

As a consultant, have you ever had the experience of sitting in a meeting room and, after all the niceties are done with, listening to the most senior person of the room start talking and realise they know next to nothing of why you’re there? Or, they think they know who you are, but the words they’re using are at complete odds with your perception with what you think you’re doing there?

What happens next can range from genuine curiosity – with an eye to why they weren’t briefed properly by their own people – to outright dismissive, even aggressive, behaviour. Experienced consultants will tell you that they’ve felt the full sweep of this spectrum at some time or other and, with a wry smile, it may conceal much more beneath. Even if the consultant is usually the most vulnerable person in the room, the sense of the threat that you may present can be palpable.

Don’t expect sympathy for your own precarious position.

It will be ultimately up to you to either dispel the drama or learn to work within it, since it centres on you and that disturbing vibration around maybe why you were brought you in – to shake things up. And that is the paymaster’s right.

The opposite situation is also worth considering. Where you are so seamlessly integrated in a situation that no-one knows you’re a consultant or they’re forgetting it rapidly. In this scenario, it’s entirely possible you may already know more than many of the people in the room. Remember, if you’re lucky enough to cope with working ‘sideways’, you may soon become the custodian of an entirely unique perspective, which could easily walk out of the organisation the moment you leave. So, this misconception may be something you’ll want to correct very quickly – it is the basis of your livelihood and code to maintain a professional detachment – but, if you’re well established and have a strong rapport with the commissioners of the work, you will be more relaxed and it makes the ‘sell’ of your work seem like another form of ‘internal project initiation’.

In business, we are working in the midst of an organism, some of whose processes are a source of positive wonder, some of which should be exemplary and obvious but have yet to evolve to cope with the role they’ve inherited, some of which is worn out or doing a function it was never designed for. The individual organs that drive this creature might have a long and distinguished history or they may be new and experimental. Some elements will be moving towards each other, others not even aware of what the other ones do. We can never make too many assumptions about who, where and when they can see what. Perhaps one of the defining qualities of an organisation is its opaqueness or transparency. The secret to good organisational consulting is to see enough of the machine working as a whole to do something meaningful at the scale you’ve been engaged at. If you’re lucky, you can build from there, once you gain the buy-in; this might be one level above or below, but in many ways the most interesting – although by far the more difficult – is if you can reach across.

The Client Side

Now consider the perspective of that manager from the client side for a moment.

You’ve just come from three meetings this morning already. You’re thinking that perhaps you won’t eat till 2pm, if you’re lucky, and you’ve learnt about two knotty problems and an uncertain one already this morning. Now, you find yourself on your way to a meeting your PA has kindly accepted for you but wish you could have avoided, with this new person that you’ve never met in your life. They’re not even on the email system. You know they’re something to do with a particular initiative that sounded a good idea a few months back and wasn’t backed by too much of the department’s budget anyway. But, frankly, the context is a little vague, because The Good Idea is not fleshed out yet and no-one’s quite sure if The Team should be setting the agenda or leaving it to the consultant to get on with Do Their Thing; they’re the ‘expert’ aren’t they? If only I had the time I’d sit down and sort this out myself, but we’ve got 30 mins and I’ll try and figure out what the hell we do. You know, these deep-field initiatives really should shape our world, but when can we show something tangible from them? Who but a consultant will want to make these kind of waves though?

Now, multiply that by the range of personalities found in a manager and you get the spectrum of meetings that can transpire.

If the organisation had all the answers to their problem, you wouldn’t have even been invited in the building.

So, we always need to consider that whatever wonderful bag of tricks, enthusiasm, wisdom and experience we think we bring into any organisational setting, we are the source of an out/in-group problem with all the attendant cultural dimensions that entails from the moment we step away from the Reception desk wearing our visitor’s badge.

Our first organisational problem we will have to fix is the one we create by simply being there.

About the Author – Glen Burridge

Earth Scientist, Consultant, Aviator and Intercultural Enthusiast, Glen is just down the road in Perth, Australia…

glen